We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall '01: "The Tick"

Every year, we have the sad duty of trying to draw attention to a show that's doomed. Doomed because it's too good for network TV, too smart and quirky and... well, too different for audiences accustomed to the junk that the networks pile upon us on a regular basis. Even people who might otherwise appreciate such shows often never watch, because to see something so jarringly different would be a shock to their systems.

And so, with only a few half-hours left in the can and little hope for more of them to come into being, we ask you to take a whiff of Fox's The Tick before he disappears forever into the realm of eight-episodes-and-gone TV series.

There are a lot of good shows on television, despite all evidence to the contrary. And many of those shows are of the pleasant, normal variety. The King of Queens is a pretty funny show that I watch on a regular basis, but it's a sitcom with a premise as old as The Honeymooners, or maybe Aeschylus. Greeks or Gleason, take your pick, it's been done.

The Tick, however, is a mélange of peculiar sources, slapped together into something remarkably new. (That is, unless you count its equally brilliant animated predecessor.) It's got the over-the-top art direction of "Batman" -- one of the show's directors is Bo Welch, the art designer of "Batman Returns" and numerous other quirky films. It's got the odd action-hero-meets-comedy feel of exec producer Barry Sonnenfeld's "Men in Black." And, yes, it's got the show-about-nothing quality of Seinfeld, in which series star Patrick Warburton appeared as dim-witted Puddy.

In The Tick, Warburton gets to play even more dim-witted than he did as Puddy. The Tick's super power appears to be incredible density -- he's an immovable object, an impenetrable force... and that density apparently extends to his brain. But the Tick's most notable trait isn't that he's slow on the uptake, or completely lacks an uptake at all. It's his singleminded pursuit of justice, a pursuit of all things good (and of all things evil, if only to apprehend them) that leads The Tick to poetic, haiku-like musings and hilarious metaphors, all on the topic of good versus evil. Even if that evil is a leaky faucet.

In fact, The Tick is so earnest that it makes any other superhero -- Batman, Superman, this means you -- pale in comparison. Why aren't they as committed to the sweet sugary goodness of justice as The Tick?

In The Tick's world, the contrast is remarkable. Much to the shock of the Tick and especially his newly-minted sidekick Arthur (super power: he can fly with the aid of a moth suit), Superheroes are a pretty self-centered, cynical bunch. (Sounding like Seinfeld now?) Series regulars Batmanuel and Captain Liberty are typical. He's more interested in using his tights to pick up chicks; she's a federal agent who just doesn't have it all together. Guest heroes include the members of a Super Friends-style hero club that's all male and all white; a flame-spouting hero with a history of verbally abusing his sidekick; and the Immortal, who proves rather mortal while having a roll in the hay with Captain Liberty.

The show most like The Tick on TV today is Futurama. That series is a sly send-up of the conventions of science fiction that really works much better if you're somewhat versed in the genre. Likewise, The Tick is funny on a whole other level if you know comic books. But regardless, it's a brilliantly funny series. There is, in all likelihood, no comedy series on television today as funny as The Tick -- The Simpsons included.

So catch it while you can. Because The Tick's time is tick, tick, ticking away...


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